Back to This Week's Parsha

Peninim on the Torah

subscribe.gif (2332 bytes)

Previous issues

Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


Bnei Yisrael were armed when they went up from Egypt… And Moshe took the bones of Yosef with him. (13:18, 19)

Rashi explains chamushim to mean "armed." In an alternative exposition, Rashi quotes the Midrash which posits that chamushim is derived from chomesh,"a fifth." This implies that actually only one fifth of the Jewish People left Egypt. Apparently, the bulk of the nation was prepared to adopt the Egyptian lifestyle. They did not want to be slaves, but they were not yet prepared to leave the country. They died during the three-day plague of darkness. In his Shemen Hatov, Horav Zev Weinberger, Shlita, quotes Horav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, zl, of Yerushalayim, who offered an insightful explanation of chamushim, armed. Of what did their weapons consist? Where did the Jewish people obtain weapons in the short span of time allotted to them to prepare to leave? They did not even have time to prepare food, let alone search for weapons.

The Rosh Yeshivah of Brisk explains that their klei zayin, weapons, were, as the Torah immediately states: "And Moshe took the bones of Yosef with him." These bones, the coffin of Yosef HaTzadik, protected the nation when they came to the Red Sea. Chazal say, "Hayam raah va'yanos", "The sea see and fled." (Tehillim 114:3) Chazal ask what did the sea saw that prompted it to flee /split? Raah arono shel Yosef, "It saw the coffin of Yosef." Yanus mipnei ha'nas, "Flee from the one who ran" is a reference to Yosef's reaction to the blandishments of Potifar's wife. These were the powerful armor of the Jewish People. It was Yosef's coffin which protected them.

Rav Weinberger integrates both p'shatim, explanations, demonstrating how one complements the other. The fact that only one-fifth of the nation left Egypt - the fifth comprised of devout, committed, believing Jews; the faithful --is the reason that they were armed. What greater protection is there than a group of Jews who are all righteous? They were armed with mitzvos and maasim tovim, good deeds.

Rav Weinberger employs this idea to explain the statement of the Chafetz Chaim regarding the fifth that left. The sage explains that even this unusual group of Jews - the fifth that left -- were the ones about whom it is said at the beginning of the parsha, V'lo nacham Elokim derech eretz Plishtim, "And Hashem did not lead them by way of the land of Plishtim" (ibid.13:17). Even this group of righteous Jews could not withstand the challenge of a confrontation with their ex-masters, the Egyptians. They were strong and committed, yet exposure to the moral bankruptcy evinced by the Egyptians was dangerous. When the "air" is spiritually impure, it has a detrimental effect on even the most righteous.

And Hashem said to Moshe, "Why do you call out to Me? Speak to Bnei Yisrael, and they shall travel." (14:15)

Two specific aspects of the human experience--matrimony and earning a livelihood -- are compared to the splitting of the Red Sea. Kasheh zivugan shel adam k'krias Yam Suf, "It is as difficult to bring a man and his bride together as the splitting of the Red Sea." Kasheh mezonosav shel adam k'krias Yam Suf, "A person's livelihood is as difficult (to provide) as the splitting of the Red Sea." The word kasheh, difficult, is a term which creates a dilemma. Is there anything "difficult" for Hashem? He can do as He pleases. Nothing holds Him back. How can any act -- miraculous or not -- be perceived as challenging to Hashem?

Horav Yisrael Belsky, Shlita, quotes Horav Yaakov Kamenetzky, zl, who explains this "difficulty." The Rosh Yeshivah would often quote Chazal in the Talmud Chagigah 12A who posit that the rules of nature were composed with great wisdom. They cite the pasuk in Mishlei 3:19,20, "Hashem established the earth with chochmah, wisdom; He set the Heavens with tevunah, understanding; with His daas, knowing, the depths He split." The creation of the world and its ensuing design and continuity were great acts of penetrating wisdom. Thus, by its very definition a neis, miracle, is an abrogation of the laws of Nature. By implication, on some level, a neis opposes the wisdom of Hashem. Therefore, when Chazal say that Krias Yam Suf, parnassah, livelihood and zivugim, matrimony, are difficult for Hashem, they do not mean that the act is difficult - nothing is difficult for Hashem to do. They refer to the need to act contrary to the wisdom with which He endowed the world. This represents the "difficulty" for Hashem whenever He must perform a miracle which goes against the chukei ha'teva, laws of Nature. It is "difficult" for the very Source of wisdom itself to act in a manner which essentially undermines wisdom.

Rav Belsky quotes the well-known episode in the Talmud Shabbos 53b concerning a man whose wife passed away, leaving him with an infant that had to be nursed. The father lacked the funds to hire a wet-nurse. Hashem performed a miracle, such that the man himself was able to nurse the child. Rav Yosef said, "Come and see what a great man he is, for such a miracle was performed for him!" Abbaya, however, disagreed, saying, "On the contrary: how despicable is this man that the order of Creation was altered on his account."

Chazal are teaching us concerning the depth of wisdom inherent in the laws of nature, and how a miracle performed for a person indicates his level of righteousness. Yet, it also shows that a miracle performed for this person fundamentally contradicts the great wisdom Hashem has put into the natural order.

Bnei Yisrael came within the sea on dry land and the water was a wall for them, on their right side and on their left. (14:22) Bnei Yisrael went on dry land in the midst of the sea. (14:29)

The commentators question the altering of the text in the sequence of the pesukim. First, why does the Torah repeat itself? Prior to the drowning of the Egyptians, the Torah writes that Bnei Yisrael "came within the sea on dry land." Afterwards, when the Egyptians were no longer a threat, the Torah reiterates that the people "went on dry land in the midst of the sea." Is this second pasuk necessary, once the Torah had already stated the same thing earlier? Furthermore, previously the Torah wrote that they went b'soch ha'yam ba'yabashah; "within the sea on dry land." Following the Egyptian's demise, the Torah writes that they went, ba'yabashah b'soch ha'yam - "went on dry land in the midst of the sea." Were they on "dry land," or were they "within the sea"?

Horav Pinchas Friedman, Shlita, quotes the Noam Elimelech who explains the concept of, u'Bnei Yisrael halchu b'soch ha'yam ba'yabashah, "Bnei Yisrael came within the sea on dry land." There are tzaddikim, righteous people, who, even when walking on dry land, when they are not surrounded by water, still sense and perceive the miracles that took place during Krias Yam Suf, the splitting of the Red Sea. When the Jews experienced the incredible miracles that occurred before and during the splitting of the Red Sea, there were Jews that absorbed the miracles and assimilated them into their psyche to the point that they always felt surrounded by miracles - even when walking in relative safety and calm on dry land.

Rav Friedman supports this idea with the famous dictum of Ramban: U'min ha'nissim ha'gedolim ha'mefursamim, adam modeh b'nissim ha'nistarim, "And from the great public miracles, man concedes and acknowledges the covert miracles." In other words, we do not often acknowledge the everyday, every moment miracles that take place on a constant basis, miracles to which we, at first, do not give a second thought. Once we have experienced the awesome, earth-shattering miracles, we come to realize that, indeed, everything is a miracle. This is the idea of halchu b'soch ha'yam bayabashah - even when a person is on dry land, he acknowledges that he is experiencing a miracle.

In an effort to expand on the idea presented by the Noam Elimelech, Rav Friedman quotes the famous Midrash in Bereishis Rabbah, which interprets David HaMelech's closing pasuk in Sefer Tehillim: Kol ha'neshamah te'hallel Kah, "Every soul will offer praise to Hashem" - which the Midrash interprets: Al kol neshimah u'neshimah tehallel Kah, "For each and every breath you should praise Hashem." In other words, we must learn to realize that each and every breath of air that we breathe is not a given - it is a miraculous gift from the Almighty for which we must offer our gratitude and praise.

In the Talmud Shabbos 32, Chazal add: "When a man goes to the market, he should visualize that he is going before a judge; he has a headache, let him imagine that he has been placed in a dungeon; he is ill and becomes bedridden, it should be in his eyes as if he was standing before the executioner to receive his final judgment. Whoever has merit will be spared - whoever does not merit will die." The bottom line is: Do not take anything in life for granted! It is a miraculous gift from Hashem. One does not have to be in the midst of a raging sea with Egyptians dying all over the place to realize the depth of his miraculous salvation. Yes, one can be ba'yabashah - on dry land - and imagine as if he were b'soch ha'yam, in the midst of the sea.

This is why, in his commentary to Bava Kamma 16A, the Toras Chaim explains that Chazal were mesakein, instituted, the prayer of Modim/We give thanks, which is recited thrice daily in our Shemoneh Esrai. To paraphrase his holy words: "Since He performs kindness with every man, every moment, but, regrettably, a person does not always realize his personal miracle, thinking that this is the way of the world. One arises, goes about his daily endeavor as if this is what life is all about. He forgets that there are those who sadly do not arise - or who cannot get around. He does not recognize the verity that each and every movement of his body - every breath that he breathes - is from Him…! A person should, thus, have to stand all day in supplication to Hashem, praising Him and offering gratitude for his continued existence. This is not, however, the way of the world…Therefore, Chazal instituted a prayer which would be all-inclusive, acknowledging - al kol nisecha she'b'chol yom imunu - v'al niflosecha she'b'chol eis - erev, va'boker,v'tzaharayim, "For all Your miracles which are always with us - and for all Your wonders which take place all of the time - morning, afternoon, and night."

This is the spiritual fringe benefit of Krias Yam Suf, which lent us insight to Hashem's ways, so that now, a Jew who walks on "dry land" is acutely aware that but for the grace of G-d he would be in the sea. Life itself is its greatest miracle.

For every man according to what he eats. (16:16)

Horav Moshe Kramer, zl, became rav in Vilna. Prior to his ascent to the rabbinate he was a grocer. Hence, the name Kramer, which in Yiddish is a grocer. His illustrious grandson, Horav Eliyahu Kramer, was none other than the Gaon, m'Vilna. The great sage, who has continued to illuminate the minds of thousands of Torah students throughout the last two centuries, was the product of a home built upon middos tovos, good character traits, and incredible trust in the Almighty. When Rav Moshe was asked to accept the position of rav, he accepted the position on the condition that he would take no salary. Apparently, his grocery provided him with the funds necessary to live.

A short while after accepting the rabbanus, Rav Moshe noticed that there was more money available in their home. He wondered why. After all, he made approximately the same amount every week, his expenditures and accounts receivable allowing him a small profit. From where was this newly-found money? His wife explained that ever since he had become rav, more people were shopping in his store as a ruse to provide him with added income. Knowing that he would never take a donation, or even a gift, they were determined to help him by supporting his store.

Rav Moshe was aghast. He was causing the other grocers to lose money! If everyone would support the rav's store, what would the other vendors do? He came upon a course of action. After figuring out how much money he needed to sustain his family, he divided it into the days of the week and told his wife, "When you achieve the daily goal that I have set up for us, you must close the store in order to enable the other grocers to earn a living also. The Torah writes, ish l'fi acho, 'each man according to what he eats.' We should be no different." This is the type of people who were the progenitors of one of the greatest Torah scholars of all times.

Bnei Yisrael ate the manna for forty years…They ate the manna until their arrival at the border of the land of Canaan. (16:35)

In the Mechilta, Chazal teach that, Lo nitnah Torah lidrosh ela l'ochlei man, "The Torah was given to be expounded only by mann-eaters." This means that there were positive reasons for the Torah to have been given to Klal Yisrael while they were in the midst of their forty-year sojourn to the Promised Land. The wilderness was an integral part of this experience. The Torah had to be given in the desolate wilderness. It is not just because Egypt's prevailing environment was filled with spiritual bankruptcy and defilement. It was because to live in the desert is to defy the laws of nature. Horav Eliyahu Eliezer Dessler, zl, explains that a nation cannot exist in the wilderness by natural means. It needs a miracle. By giving us His Torah in the desert, Hashem taught us that devotion to the Torah is never compatible with belief in nature. Unrestricted faith in "natural causes" cannot go hand in hand with Torah, because to view the world through the prism of nature is antithetical to Torah perspective.

A person who sees the world only as the arena for natural forces will inevitably consider any attempt at living a spiritual life to be doomed to failure. The two - "nature" and "Torah" - just do not go well together. The Torah demands from us faith in a Power, Who transcends nature and Who directs nature in accordance with spiritual purposes. Rav Dessler observes that this negation of the natural point of view and adherence to the spiritual perspective may, at times, lead us to make decisions which seem bound to lead to disaster. One clear instance is that of the nascent nation following the Cloud of Glory out into the wilderness, without making any provisions for the future. This was considered by Hashem to be our nation's finest hour. Zocharti lach chesed neurayich…lechteich Acharai ba'midbar b'eretz lo zeruah. "I recall for you the kindness of your youth…your following Me into the Wilderness, into an unsown land"(Yirmiyahu 2:1). Pharaoh, as well as anyone whose perspective on life is dominated by nature, viewed this step as courting disaster. He only saw the "evil, blood and destruction," Reu. 'ki raah neged pineichem, "See! That evil intent is opposite your faces" (Shemos 10:10).

Hashem gave us the Torah on a supernatural basis. The Torah was given, to those who lived off the manna, to those who recognize on a daily basis that whatever they achieved was only by the grace of G-d. Indeed, Torah knowledge and retention are not based purely on acumen. One who is diligent and assiduous in his Torah study will be granted his achievement by virtue of a gift from the Almighty - its Divine Author. This concept applies to all of Jewish life, as well. There is nothing natural about serving Hashem. We serve Him with all of our kochos, abilities, until the very last moment, when we simply no longer have any strength left within us. We are stretched to the limit, and we still serve.

Hashem promised Avraham Avinu that he would father a son, upon whom the purpose of Creation would depend. Yet, the Patriarch found it difficult to accept, because he had seen "in the stars" that his fortune was not to have a son. Hashem told him to "leave his astrology," an idea which means: do not be moved by the power of nature which, from its very inception, is in violent confrontation with the spiritual purpose of Creation. The purpose of Creation can only be achieved by following a course which transcends nature.

Rav Dessler applies this idea to present day endeavor. On his own individual level, each one of us is confronted with challenges. For some, it is Shabbos. These people feel that Shabbos observance presents a serious test. Looking at earning a livelihood through the perspective of nature, Shabbos observance stands in the way of earning a living. The individual who trusts in Hashem, who understands that the Almighty provides, sees that even what seems to be "natural" is, in effect, miraculous. He trusts that "somehow" Hashem will find for him an avenue of financial salvation.

Likewise, one who seeks a lifestyle of solid financial freedom based on natural causes, with cause and effect playing a prominent role in his decision-making process, will certainly not take the "ben Torah" path. He will see that assuming such a course would collide with his perspective on earning a daily livelihood. Only one who takes the Torah plunge, taking his life in his hands, learning at all costs, despite the hardship and constant challenge, will find that he will be helped to learn and gain a meaningful livelihood without accepting the "vaunted" natural basis.

At a meeting of prominent Rabbinic leaders held in Lithuania, one of the speakers argued that, based upon the current financial situation, there was no way that the yeshivos could possibly have a future. There simply was no money, and, without a natural means of support, they simply could not survive. The gadol ha'dor, preeminent Torah leader of the generation, Horav Chaim Ozer Grodzenski, zl, uncle of Rav Dessler, immediately countered, "Do not worry: The Torah exists on miracles. It will never have a natural basis." This means that we must make every attempt to raise funds to increase a yeshivah's financial structure in order to glorify Torah, to make it great in the eyes of people. Regardless of how daunting the task and how difficult the challenge, however, we may never give up hope, falter or become complacent, because the future of Torah is assured. Hashem will "take care" of the Torah.

Indeed, Rav Dessler writes that the saintly Chafetz Chaim, zl, was unhappy with the idea of investing large sums of money so that the yeshivos could have a strong financial foundation from which to be assured a regular income. He said, "I would rather invest the money in expanding the existing yeshivos and in creating new ones. How will they exist? That is Hashem's business!"

The following story is a classic, related by Horav Yaakov Ades, zl, Rosh Yeshivah of Porat Yosef. The mere fact that this story was related by an individual of such an enviable spiritual caliber indicates how we must view these (apparently not-so-simple) stories. Two "retail" textile merchants in Yerushalayim, circa pre-State of Israel, had stores in close proximity of one another. A silk wholesaler approached one of them, whom we shall call Reuven, and offered him a fine lot of silk at an incredibly low price. Reuven examined the merchandise and saw that it was well-made, light and flexible, yet strong, a perfect combination for long wearability. Now, came the haggling over the price. Back and forth they went, offer and counter offer, until they finally settled on a price. There was, however, one problem: It was a large lot which had to be purchased in its entirety. Reuven's business could not assume such a consignment. He decided to call his competitor, Shimon, with whom he had a good relationship. Perhaps he would take half of the order. This was not unusual, since this was one way that they could drive down the wholesale price. They competed, but they were not at one another's throats.

The shipment arrived, and it was split evenly between Reuven and Shimon. Now, all they had to do was sell the merchandise. Reuven and Shimon had two distinct styles of doing business. Shimon was hardworking and diligent, working in his shop from early morning until evening. Reuven also worked hard, but he had his priorities. He went to shul in the morning and took his time praying. Afterwards, he would recite Tehillim and study his daily dose of Parsha and Mishnayos. He ate breakfast and took his time bentching. Then he went to work. When Reuven arrived at his shop, Shimon's shop had already been open for a few hours. Reuven was of the firm opinion that Hashem would provide him with his needs. His hishtadlus, endeavoring, would suffice. The Almighty would do the rest.

One evening, shortly after the shipment arrived, Reuven's shop was visited by a Russian Orthodox priest who happened to be a regular customer. Reuven proudly displayed his new material. The priest was visibly impressed, and, after purchasing a bolt of material for himself, hurried back to the monastery to share his good fortune with his fellow priests. Seeing what their friend brought back with him, the other priests suddenly had an urge to update their collection of apparel. First thing in the morning, they were going to present themselves at Reuven's textile shop and purchase material for themselves.

The next day, bright and early, a group of Russian Orthodox priests were to be found standing impatiently in front of Reuven's shop. Lo and behold, Reuven was nowhere to be found. Shul was more important. He opened for business only after his spiritual affairs were put in order. Meanwhile, Shimon, who had already been open for business for a few hours, saw the priests, and, like a good samaritan, he approached them and offered to show them his material, which just happened to come from the same shipment as to be found in Reuven's store. Hearing this, the priests proceeded to Shimon's store to examine his material. If his claim was true, he would be the lucky vendor.

They had brought a sample of the material purchased the day before from Reuven's store by the first priest. After comparing the two, they declared that Shimon's material was inferior to that of Reuven. They were going to stick with a winner and wait for Reuven to open his shop. Shimon explained that it was impossible - both materials were the same. The priests were not to be convinced.

Reuven made the sale, which profited him handsomely. Afterwards, Shimon came over and said, "We both had the same material, bought from the same shipment, at the same place - and, yet, they would only buy from you. You are right. You do your part -Hashem does His."

Va'ani Tefillah

V'ha'er eineinu b'Sorasecha
Enlighten our eyes through Your Torah.

For every question -- be it general or personal in nature -- involving the collective Jewish nation; addressing the needs of the individual - the answer is to be found in the Torah. The Chafetz Chaim quotes the famous dictum, Leka midi d'lo remiza b'Oraissa, "There is nothing which is not alluded to in the Torah." Our Torah and the words of Chazal focus on the entire gamut of Jewish life. Chazal teach that one should apportion his finances into three parts. Thus, Chazal demonstrate their business acumen. Chazal issue advice on the relationship and attitude one must manifest toward his wife. While most seem to be common sense, they indicate penetrating insight into the human condition. If the Torah has all the answers, why are so many individuals wrong in their interpretation? Why do so many expound the Torah in a manner that not only shows their personal lack of scholarship and insight, but it almost seems that their interpretations are self-serving? The Chafetz Chaim explains that while everything may be found in the Torah, one must learn Torah well, so that he will know where to look. One must also be worthy of daas Torah, the wisdom that comes with Torah scholarship and commitment, so that he knows how to interpret what he reads. This is the meaning of, "Enlighten our eyes through Your Torah." Without Hashem's illumination, we are groping in the dark.

Dedicated in loving memory of our dear
mother and grandmother
Leona Genshaft
Leach bas Rephael Hakohen a"h
niftara 17 Shevat 5770
by her family
Neil and Marie Genshaft
Isaac and Naomi

Peninim on the Torah is in its 20th year of publication. The first fifteen years have been published in book form.

The Fifteenth volume is available at your local book seller or directly from Rabbi Scheinbaum.

He can be contacted at 216-321-5838 ext. 165 or by fax at 216-321-0588

Discounts are available for bulk orders or Chinuch/Kiruv organizations.


This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Permission is granted to redistribute electronically or on paper,
provided that this notice is included intact.
For information on subscriptions, archives, and
other Shema Yisrael Classes,
send mail to
Jerusalem, Israel